The War Room was, in a word, divided. On one half stood Adora, Bow, Perfuma, and Sea Hawk with the position of defending Catra (no one knew why Sea Hawk was on that side other than ADVENTURE - but Perfuma wasn’t a surprise. She liked to believe the best in everyone and she’d never been personally hurt by Catra). On the other side was Frosta, Mermista, Spinnerella, and Nettossa, not quite attacking Catra but definitely not defending her. Glimmer was caught between the two groups.
She understood why Mermista and the others would have reservations about allowing Catra to even be in Brightmoon, let alone a member of the Alliance. Catra had been the one to lead the invasion of Brightmoon a short time ago, not to mention that she was still technically the second-in-command of the Horde. But Catra was also a Princess now, and devoted to Adora even if she wouldn’t admit that yet. On the other hand, Catra had committed many crimes against the Alliance, it wouldn’t be fair to everyone that she had hurt to simply turn a blind eye. The Alliance couldn’t ignore the damage Catra had caused, nor could they let her power go unchecked. They needed some kind of compromise.
“Enough!” Glimmer’s strong voice quelled the argument that had been growing louder by the second. The assembled Princesses fell silent and even Catra was looking at Glimmer with an expression that might have held grudging respect as they made their way back around the table to sit down, Catra perched awkwardly between Adora and Bow. “Frosta, Mermista, Spinnerella, Nettossa, you’re right. We can’t and we won’t ignore the damage Catra has caused, but we will not condemn her for it either.”
No one except Adora could see the surprise in Catra’s eyes and she fought the urge to take her-friend? Girlfriend? Person she had kissed before and wanted to kiss again?-Catra’s hand in her own.
“We know that the Horde raises its soldiers to believe that the Princesses are evil. Catra believed she was fighting an enemy, none of us can say that we wouldn’t have done the same if we’d been in her shoes,” Glimmer glanced down at where she knew Catra’s bare feet were under the table. “Figuratively speaking.”
“So, she’s like, not joining the Alliance?” Mermista asked in her usual bored sounding tone.
“I didn’t say that,” Glimmer decided that it was okay for her to take her own seat now that she didn’t feel like a brawl was about to break out in the War Room.
“You didn’t not say that either.”
“Yes, thank you, Mermista,” Glimmer said quickly.
“Perhaps we should table the talk of Catra joining the Alliance for a later time,” Angella said calmly, interrupting any arguments before they could happen. “And move on to the more pressing matters. Catra, you said the Spirit Ember has chosen you as the new Princess of Fire.”
“Yes ma’am,” Catra spoke with confidence that no one except Adora could tell was faked.
“Please, tell us how this came to be.” Angella made the statement sound like a request but to Catra’s Horde trained instincts, it was an order that Catra hesitated to comply with for just a second, thinking of all the ways this could be used against her. A warm hand touched the back of Catra’s hand where it rested on the table. Catra glanced over at Adora for a moment.
“I’m not sure how it started, but I guess it happened when I touched the Spirit Ember at Mount Candila. It knocked me out. When I woke up, or whatever that was, I was surrounded by fire. Someone started talking to me, they told me that I had been chosen and the Trial had begun.”
“Trial?” Angella asked. “What sort of Trial?”
“Trial by Fire,” Catra answered. “I was shown a pathway that seemed to never end. Once I started walking, I couldn’t go back because of the fire. After Adora made contact with me,” Catra glanced at her again and then away, “I was shown another doorway and told to step through. There was someone, something waiting for me. I guess it was the spirit of the Spirit Ember. I accepted the challenge of the Trial and the fire went out.” Catra shrugged slightly. “When I woke up, I could do this.”
Catra snapped her fingers, enjoying the way the assembled Princesses gasped as her fingers were suddenly covered in flame. At least Glimmer didn’t faint this time, though she did look a little uncomfortable.
“And what of the Trial?” Angella pressed slightly.
“I don’t remember anything of it,” Catra lied. She remembered all of it, all the questions that were asked, all the answers she gave. All the truths she couldn’t admit yet.
“So, Catra’s a Princess,” Perfuma looked more shocked than any of them had ever seen her. “And a Horde soldier.”
“No,” Catra surprised herself with her vehemence. “I’m-I’m not either of those things.”
“Then, like, what are you?” Mermista asked, leaning forward slightly in her chair.
The rest of the Alliance turned to look at Catra expectantly. Catra felt her spine straighten under the attention, clenching her jaw in an effort to seem like she wasn’t intimidated. Which was completely untrue. Catra had faced Hordak and Shadow Weaver with barely a flinch but looking here at her once enemies and her past best friend now-whatever Adora was to her-and she was filled with uncharacteristic anxiety. The truth was, Catra didn’t know who she was anymore. Princess, Horde Soldier, they were just titles that Catra could hide behind.
“I-” Catra made the mistake of glancing over at Adora again and saw the hope that burned in her eyes. The flames that had still been dancing around her fingers flared for a moment and Catra closed her hand to quell them. “I’m not sure anymore.”
“Then we shall do our best to help you learn,” Angella said after a few seconds of heavy silence. Catra acknowledged her words with a slight nod of her head. “If there are no other matters to discuss…”
“Dismissed,” Glimmer nodded once at her mother and stood up from her chair as the other Princesses began to file out of her room. Angella followed Mermista out the door and soon it was only Bow, Glimmer, Adora, and Catra in the room. “Sorry about them Catra.”
“Please, as if I couldn’t handle them.”
Bow and Glimmer shared one of the frustrating looks that Catra was slowly becoming more familiar, and annoyed, with that told her they didn’t buy her bluff any more than Adora.
“Right,” Bow said, looking like he wanted to throw his arms around Catra but not doing so because he knew Catra wouldn’t react well to that. “So, what should we do now?”
“We should go get dinner,” Glimmer grabbed on to Bow’s arm. “Adora, Catra, we’ll come find you later.”
“Wait-” Bow’s protest was cut off as Glimmer teleported both of them out.
“Subtly is not something they teach in Brightmoon, is it?” Catra asked Adora, shaking her head slightly to hide her grin.
“No, it’s not,” Adora agreed with a smile. She took a hesitant step closer to Catra, studying her closely. “How are you?”
“Fine.” Catra replied immediately, crossing her arms across her chest. Adora looked at her imploringly. All the walls that Catra had been building on shaky foundation since Adora left the Horde crumbled even further. Catra was beginning to wonder if the walls she thought she had were ever there in the first place.
“You haven’t been sleeping,” Adora says and for a moment Catra hates that even after the months of being separated, Adora still knows her better than anyone.
“No,” Catra hadn’t had a good night’s sleep since she woke up from her magically induced coma a week ago. She was still in the same room, though the too soft bed had been replaced with something more like Catra was used to at her request. She knew her room was supposed to be the “prison” but it didn’t quite feel like that. It didn’t feel like freedom either.
“Will you tell me why?” Adora asked, taking another step closer.
“No,” Catra stayed still, her tail flicking back and forth.
“Okay,” Adora nodded even though Catra wasn’t looking at her.
She wasn’t sure how to cross this chasm between them. She’d been terrified when she saw Catra’s unconscious form by the Spirit Ember, even more so when the Spirit Healers from Mystacor told her Catra might not wake up. The relief that Adora had felt when Catra woke up was almost as indescribable as the joy she felt when she finally, finally , kissed Catra. Then Catra had ended up with fire powers, Glimmer fainted upon seeing them, and Adora had barely had a chance to be alone with Catra in the past week. She had no idea where they stood now.
But, she did know how she could get Catra to get some rest. At least, she knew what used to work and she hoped that it still would. Slowly, she lifted her hand to hold it out to Catra.
“Come with me?” Adora requested softly. Catra turned, looking at Adora’s outstretched hand for so long that Adora wasn’t sure she would take it. Then, she did, and Adora swore she could feel an unnatural warmth coming from where their skin touched.
Adora led Catra out of the War Room and down the maze like halls towards her room. Catra was glad that Adora seemed to know her way around because Catra had no idea where they were in the castle. She tried to mentally map where they were for when she’d have to go back to her room later, but then Adora started unconsciously moving her thumb back and forth across Catra’s knuckles and Catra focused all her attention on not spontaneously combusting.
They paused for barely a second in front of one door before Adora pushed it open and pulled Catra through with her. She released Catra’s hand as the door swung closed behind them and headed towards a dresser on the side of the room.
“This is your room,” Catra said, looking around. There wasn’t much there, but Catra could feel Adora in the room. The part that stood out to her the most though, was the bed. It wasn’t soft and cloudlike as Catra had had in her own room before but the same soft slab.
“Yeah,” Adora had taken her hair down and pulled off her jacket while Catra was looking around the room. “I know it’s still early but I thought…” Adora trailed off, gesturing towards the bed with one hand.
“Oh,” Catra looked at the bed and then back at Adora and it was like she suddenly realized that they were actually alone in a place where they were unlikely to be interrupted.
“If you want too I mean, you don’t have to. I can walk you back to your room.”
“No, it’s okay,” Catra stopped Adora, stepping closer to the bed. “Do you have something I can wear?”
Adora nodded and fished a sports bra and shorts out of her dresser, the clothes she knew Catra liked to sleep in. She pulled out a tank top and another set of shorts for herself and gestured to a small door to the side.
“Bathroom is in there if you want to change,” Adora offered. She wasn’t really sure why. It’s not like she hasn’t Catra undressed before. They had grown up together, the Horde wasn’t known for privacy. But now it felt different. Catra accepted the offer and stepped through the door Adora indicated.
Adora quickly changed her own clothes while Catra was out of the room and pulled the curtains closed. It wasn’t quite as dark as it would be if the sun was all the way down, but it was dark enough that they’d be able to fall asleep. Potentially.
Adora was just turning down the blanket on the bed when Catra returned, her clothes folded in her hands.
“Oh, here,” Adora took the clothes from Catra and placed them on the dresser for her to get in the morning. “Are you ready?”
Catra didn’t know how to answer for a moment. There were so many things she wasn’t ready for. Going back to the Horde, being a Princess, trying to figure out what all of this meant now. Her mind went back to the questions the Flame had asked. Had she forgiven Adora? Could she admit how much she wanted her?
The answer was simple and sure and yet Catra still couldn’t say it.
“Yeah,” she said roughly, clearing her throat awkwardly after.
She let Adora climb into the bed first and then stood beside it, watching where Adora’s feet rested under the blanket so she could curl up around them just like she used to.
“Catra,” Adora called. When Catra looked up, Adora was holding a corner of the blanket up with one hand, holding the other out to Catra. “With me. Up here.”
Like they were equals. Like Catra was more than something for Adora to control.
She settled beside Adora, both of them lying on their sides so they could fit in the small space.
“Adora,” Catra said softly. “What does this mean?”
“It means I care about you, Catra. It means I want to help you, if you’ll let me.” Adora whispered back.
“What if I don’t know how you can help me?” Catra closed her eyes. “What if I don’t know how to help myself?”
“Then I’ll still be right here,” Adora promised, lifting one hand to cup Catra’s cheek. “I told you before Catra. I’ve made my choice and it’s you.”
“I choose you, too,” Catra whispered, opening her eyes. Adora was closer now, eyes shining in the darkened room. A familiar warmth that Catra had spent years pretending she didn’t feel began to rise in her again and this time she let it. It filled her being, and if she was paying attention to anything except Adora, she might have noticed that it came out of her being as well. Fire danced along her, warm but harming nothing in its path. Neither Catra or Adora were aware of it.
Adora leaned closer and paused, waiting. Catra closed the distance. This kiss was different than their first, softer, lingering longer. It didn’t feel so desperate. It felt warm and safe and like the home Catra had always craved.
When they parted, Catra laid her head against Adora’s chest and fell asleep easily. Adora followed soon after, smiling against Catra’s forehead as her eyes fell closed.